Best of SI: NCAA Should Realign Divisions with Geography in Mind
Ten years ago this month, the last great spasm of realignment began shaking the college sports world. When it finally subsided in 2014, the landscape had changed dramatically. For the richer, but not necessarily for the better.
The Big Ten wound up with 14 teams, stretching from Nebraska to New Jersey. The Southeastern Conference expanded into Texas and Missouri. The Atlantic Coast Conference wandered nearly 1,000 miles inland. The Pac-12 annexed the Rocky Mountains. The Big 12, pushed to the brink of collapse, steadied itself by adding a school 1,200 miles to the northeast of the league office. Lesser conferences followed suit, scrambling for financial viability.
A decade later, it’s time to blow up what was done and start over. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects have been profoundly felt in a realm where, for 10 years, money was no object and the map made no sense. Slapped in the face by a new fiscal reality, maybe we’re due to both rein in and reach out—to contract geographically into more regional conferences, while expanding the scope of the revenue gusher that is the College Football Playoff.
The radical realignment highlights:
A 120-school ecosystem, with 11 current FBS members relegated to FCS and one elevated from that level. Congratulations to North Dakota State; condolences to UTEP, Texas State, UTSA, South Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Bowling Green, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Coastal Carolina, Troy and Liberty. (Relegation/elevation can be revisited every three seasons.)
Ten leagues, each with 12 members, each designed to maximize proximity and reduce travel demands and costs. All current conference structures are broken and reassembled. There are no more than eight Power 5 programs in a single new conference, and no fewer than four. And there are no independents—yes, Notre Dame is in a conference.